Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a liberal Republican who earned a national reputation for his pugnacious political independence, first as a junior United States senator during the Watergate hearings and then as Connecticut governor for a third, died Wednesday in a hospital in Middletown. , in central Connecticut. He was 92 years old.
His family announced his death in a statement.
Mr. Weicker was an obscure young senator from Connecticut and a member of President Richard M. Nixon’s own party in 1973 when he took an assignment on the Senate select committee investigating the Watergate case: the burglary of Party offices. Democrat. opposition from a team of burglars from the White House and the administration’s attempts to cover up the crime.
But after the committee’s televised hearings ended, he became famous, demonized by some for the harshness of his attacks on Nixon but lauded as a hero by others.
In one memorable moment, White House counsel John W. Dean was in the witness chair and revealed that Nixon had kept an “enemy list.” Mr. Weicker declared, to enthusiastic applause:
“Let me be clear, because I have to have my partisan moment: Republicans don’t cover up; Republicans don’t go ahead and threaten; Republicans don’t follow through and commit illegal acts; And, God knows, Republicans don’t see their fellow Americans as enemies to harass.”
He later wrote in his autobiography, “Maverick: A Life in Politics”: “As a politician, Watergate didn’t hurt me. I was made for it.”
For Weicker’s admirers, the Watergate hearings revealed a man who was willing to challenge power, question authority and follow his convictions, at any cost. To critics of him, they transformed him into an opponent with a robust ego who often went against the grain for the sake of the fight itself.
In fact, throughout a 30-year career in public life, whether serving or representing Connecticut, as a state representative, as Greenwich’s first alderman (the equivalent of its mayor), as a one-term member of the House of U.S. Representatives, as a three-term U.S. Senator and four-year governor, Mr. Weicker, a burly presence at 6-foot-6, never seemed happier than when he was in the middle of a good face to face fight.
In the Senate, where he served from 1971 to 1989, his best friend and mentor was Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, another liberal Republican. His favorite enemy, through many battles in the 1970s and 1980s, was also a Republican, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Attempts by social conservatives such as Mr. Helms to advance his agenda, whether through enactment of public school prayer laws or restrictions on abortion rights, particularly infuriated Mr. Weicker, who saw the growing power of the Christian right in his party as a serious threat. to his future.
“No greater evil can be created than combining the power of religion with the power of government,” he wrote in his autobiography. “History has shown that to us time and time again.”
Mr. Weicker’s politics — he generally sided with Democrats on social issues and Republicans on taxes and spending — always made him an outsider, and in 1990, two years after losing his Senate seat to Joseph I. Lieberman, walked away from two. party politics entirely.
His political comeback, when he ran for governor of Connecticut, would make him what he said he had always been: an independent. Founding a third party, his official name A Connecticut Party, he took office in 1991 in the midst of a national recession that had not spared his state. That year, he pushed for an income tax, long taboo in Connecticut, even though he lacked the vote of a single member of his party in the state General Assembly.
“Sometimes I saw myself as a maverick,” he wrote. “Independent, without fear.”
Lowell Palmer Weicker Jr. was born in Paris on May 16, 1931, the son of the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Squibb. a grandfather, Theodor Weicker, a German immigrant, he had founded the pharmaceutical company Merck & Company with George Merck and later, with a partner, bought Squibb & Sons.
Lowell Jr. attended the private Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and Yale University, graduating in 1953. After a two-year stint in the Army, he enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law and received his title in 1958. He served in the Army Reserve until 1964.
Although he grew up in privilege, in his later public life, Mr. Weicker often sided with the underdog. He attributed some of his political views to his mother, Mary Hastings (Bickford) Weicker, a Democrat, but also to his father, a Republican who he said taught him that being lucky and wealthy was no excuse to look down on others. who had none. (His parents later divorced and his mother remarried.)
As an overweight teenager, Mr. Weicker said, he also learned early on that standing still and hitting back was probably the best strategy of his life.
“A man has to learn to do one of two things,” he quoted a school coach: run or fight. “One look at you and I suggest you learn to fight,” said the trainer. The lesson stayed.
Along the way, Mr. Weicker became a devoted opera aficionado, so much so that he accepted roles as an accompanist at the Connecticut Opera.
He was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 1962 and was Greenwich’s first alderman before winning seats in the United States House of Representatives in 1968 and in the Senate two years later.
With his national profile raised after the Watergate hearings, Mr. Weicker in March 1979 announced his candidacy for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. But within two months the campaign collapsed, after a poll in his home state placed him in third place behind Ronald Reagan and former President Gerald R. Ford.
Weicker left public life in 1995, after one term as governor. That same year he published his autobiography, written with Barry Sussman, who as editor of The Washington Post had helped lead its coverage of Watergate. Mr. Weicker subsequently served as the founding president of the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit group working on disease prevention, from 2001 to 2011.
He is survived by his wife, Claudia Weicker; his sons, Scot, Gray, Brian, Tre and Sonny; two stepchildren, Mason and Andrew Ingram; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He lived in Old Lyme, on the Connecticut coast.
In the 2008 presidential election, Weicker endorsed Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, and rejected self-described maverick Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin. He also endorsed President Obama in 2012, arguing that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, was too willing to adjust his positions to curry favor with the far right.
Similarly, he had no affection for former President Donald J. Trump, who once called Weicker a “fat bum who couldn’t get elected dog dog in Connecticut.”
“I think the man is a total con man,” Mr. Weicker told Hearst Connecticut Media in 2015. “Maybe it’s a reflection of the Republican Party more than Donald Trump, if he allows any crank like Trump to do it like he’s a valid presidential candidate.”
In 2019, he predicted that Trump would lose his re-election bid.
In his book, Weicker admitted that idiosyncratic politics provided him with few allies. When he left the Senate, he wrote, he was close to few people in both parties.
To many voters at home, he had perhaps come to seem too lonely, fighting one-man battles. Mr. Lieberman clearly captured that image in a series of television commercials that helped turn a close election around. They portrayed Mr. Weicker as a big lumbering bear that came out of his cave alone to roar at the world.
In a 2012 interview with Connecticut magazine, Weicker was asked what was harder: being a senator, governor, or retiree.
“I think probably retired,” he said. “Sitting here and watching this world go by, and this world is having a hard time, and I can’t do anything about it.”
Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.